Creating Free Online Memorials for Deceased Relatives: A New Option from Ancestry.com

Creating free online memorials for your deceased relatives and ancestors is a wonderful way to remember and honor them. Genealogy giant Ancestry.com has created a new portal for posting these free online obituaries. Here’s what Ancestry.com’s “We Remember” tool is all about, and how you can use it.

A need for free, lasting online memorials

For several years, I have been concerned that newspaper obituaries are quietly going away, along with the popularity of print newspapers themselves. Obituaries and death notices fill important purposes. They help a family and community say goodbye. They pay tribute to loved ones and to lives well-lived (or ended too soon). They quietly but effectively spread news of a death, removing some of that burden from a grieving family. And for years to come, newspaper obituaries help genealogists learn their family history.

Increasingly, we share news of a loved one’s passing directly via social media channels–sometimes instead of in newspapers. These social media messages are personal and powerful, often accompanied by images or video and supplemented with others’ comments. But they don’t entirely replace the obituary:

  • They only reach those within our social media reach.
  • They often don’t contain the same rich genealogical information an obituary may mention.
  • Some may not easily be searchable by those who want to find them.

As younger generations age into the role of decision-makers after a loved one passes, they will decide on behalf of a family how and where a loved one is formally memorialized. Print obituaries may not seem important or relevant to those who don’t rely so heavily on newspapers.

Online memorials posted by funeral homes and sites such as Legacy.com have somewhat filled this gap. They have brought obituaries into dedicated online spaces where loved ones can share biographical information, photos and memories. However, many online memorials are only published temporarily. Many require a fee either to create or to maintain—or both.

A new option for free online memorials

That’s why I’m pleased to see that Ancestry.com has launched We Remember, a free online space for posting and sharing public memorials for deceased loved ones and ancestors. According to the press release, “Rather than being a research page, the ‘We Remember’ page is designed to gather and showcase memories about your loved one. You can celebrate their life by bringing together those who knew them and collecting stories, and photos, to paint a rich picture of who they were.”

A ‘We Remember’ memorial has 3 parts:

  • Tribute: Shows their name, photo, and a headline about them and/or their obituary
  • Guestbook: Lists all who have signed the page and how they are connected to the deceased (family, friends, coworkers, schoolmates).
  • Memories: Shows memories people have added. So far, this photos and stories; Ancestry.com hopes to add audio and video options in the future.

The web-based platform doesn’t require an app and can be used from your computer, tablet or smart phone. The memorials are interactive and “intended for sharing and collaborating, gathering everyone’s memories together. There are multiple options for sharing on the site: email, Facebook, or just copying the link and sharing it directly with friends and family.” You can post questions for those who visit to answer.

Essentially, ‘We Remember’ brings the death notice announcement out of your everyday social media environment and creates a stand-alone place for anyone who is online to visit.

Questions about ‘We Remember’

Of course, questions immediately arise about how permanent and free this service will remain, and whether it will become searchable so others may discover their family history on it. Here at Genealogy Gems, we always advise not relying on any single online or offline ‘container’ for your memories, photos and other family history treasures. Genealogy technology expert Lisa Louise Cooke always advises sharing online in selected places, but keeping master files of everything offline and backed up.

Ancestry.com responded to these and other concerns about ‘We Remember’ with comments I want to share here:

  • Will it stay free? “We have created [We Remember] as a free product to capture and preserve memories. (If that ever changed – which we don’t expect at this point – any pages created before a change would stay free.)”
  • Can we save what people post to our own master files offline? “We also hope to create features in the future to allow you to save content from a We Remember memorial page to your computer, such as in a file that you could view or print.”
  • Can we link memorial pages to profiles on our Ancestry.com trees? “We haven’t built any features around that yet but have received suggestions to link between We Remember pages and profile pages of ancestors in your tree and that is something we’re actively looking at and considering.”
  • Will we be able to search We Remember memorial pages? “That is something that we have planned but haven’t built yet.”
  • Is it going to remain ad-free? “We Remember purposefully does not have ads on it, and we have no plans to include ads in the future.”
  • What about other questions concerning privacy and managing the memorial? The site has a frequently asked questions page that addresses whether you need an account, how to limit access and manage content posted by others and more.

Clearly, ‘We Remember’ is still a work-in-progress by genealogy giant Ancestry.com. But the portal is free, easy to use and beautifully-formatted. Check it out for yourself and consider using it as one way to share the news of a loved one’s death. If you do decide to use it, don’t forget to save a copy offline of the memories and photos posted by others: screenshot them if necessary!

Create a video memorial of a loved one

One of Lisa Louise Cooke’s many inspiring talents is creating short, powerful family history videos that help her celebrate the people and memories that matter most. She does a fabulous job of teaching step-by-step how we can do the same! Click here to follow her instructions on how to create a short video to spotlight a loved one.

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast. She’s especially known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her latest favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Sunny is also a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine and the NGS-award-winning Co-Editor of Ohio Genealogy News.

New U.S. Vital Records Online: Freedmen’s Bureau, Statewide Databases and More

Millions of U.S. vital records have recently been published online! These include updates to the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index; nationwide obituary, funeral home, and cemetery databases; Freedmen’s Bureau field office records; a new African American Center for Family History; and updates to vital records collections for CA, ID, LA, MI, NV, PA, SC, St. Croix, and WA. 

U.S. Vital Records new and updated

Scan this list of nationwide, regional, and statewide collections of vital records: which should you search for your U.S. ancestors? Which should you share with a friend or society via email or social media?

U.S. Vital Records: Nationwide Databases

Ancestry.com has updated three nationwide databases of vital events for the United States:

  • Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. Click here to learn more about this important collection, which takes the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) a step further by providing additional information on millions of names.
  • U.S. Obituary Collection, 1930-2017. “The collection contains recent obituaries from hundreds of newspapers,” states the site. “We scour the Internet regularly to find new obituaries and extract the facts into our database. Where available we include the original URL link to the source information. As the internet is a changing medium, links may stop working over time.”
  • U.S. Cemetery and Funeral Home Collection, 1847-2017. “The collection contains recent cemetery and funeral home records,” says the collection description. “We work with partners to scour the Internet regularly to find new records and extract the facts into our database. Where available we include the original URL link to the source information. As the internet is a changing medium, links may stop working over time.”

Across the South and African American Heritage

Ancestry.com subscribers may now also search a new database, U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878. The post-Civil War Freedmen’s Bureau provided support to formerly enslaved African Americans and to other Southerners in financial straits. This database includes records from field offices that served Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and the cities of New Orleans and Washington, D.C. It also includes records from the Adjutant General’s office relating to the Bureau’s work in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Carolina. Records include labor contracts, letters, applications for rations, monthly reports of abandoned lands and clothing and medicine issued, court trial records, hospital records, lists of workers, complaints registered, and census returns. A related collection, U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records, 1846-1867, has been updated at Ancestry.com.

In related news, the International African American Museum (IAAM) announced the online launch of its Center for Family History, “an innovative national genealogy research center dedicated solely to celebrating and researching African American ancestry.” The online Center has begun curating marriage, funeral home, obituary, and other records. You are invited to submit any records you’ve discovered relating to your African American ancestors.

California and Nevada marriage records

Over 4.3 million new records have been added to Findmypast’s collection of U.S. marriage records for the states of California and Nevada. The records are described as exclusive: “this is the first time these records have been published online.”

Idaho marriage records

Ancestry.com has updated its collection of Idaho, Marriage Records, 1863-1966. “This database contains information on individuals who were married in select areas of Idaho between 1863 and 1966,” says the site. “Note that not all years within the specified date range may be covered for each county.” Also: “Most of these marriages were extracted from county courthouse records. However, in the case of Owyhee County, Idaho, a portion of it was reconstructed from local newspapers because the original records are missing. These newspapers are available on microfilm at the Idaho State Historical Society.”

Louisiana death records

Nearly 50,00 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free database, Louisiana Deaths, 1850-1875, 1894-1960. According to the site, http://www.mindanews.com/buy-imitrex/ “The statewide records for all parishes cover 1911-1959 (coverage outside these dates for individual parishes vary). Death records from 1850-1875 are for Jefferson Parish only.”

Michigan death records

Ancestry.com has updated its database,Michigan, Death Records, 1897-1929.” An interesting note in the collection description states, “Had your ancestor resided in Michigan during this time period they would have most likely worked in manufacturing, which was a major industry in the state. Three major car manufacturing companies are located in Detroit and nearby Dearborn: Olds Motor Vehicle Company, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors. Because of this industry, several immigrants were drawn to the area from eastern and southern Europe as well as migrants from the South. Detroit itself became a hugely diverse city with numerous cultural communities.”

Pennsylvania Catholic baptisms, marriages, and burials

Findmypast.com has added new databases from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to its Roman Catholic Heritage Archive. These include:

  • Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms. Over 556,000 new records, which include name, date, and place of baptism and the names and residence of parents.
  • Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Marriages. Over 278,000 sacramental register entries. Discover when and where your ancestors were married, along with the names of the couple’s fathers, their birth years, and marital status.
  • Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Registers. Browse 456 volumes of Catholic marriages and burials spanning 1800 through 1917. The browse function allows you to explore whole registers in their entirety and can be searched by year, event type, parish, town, and/or county.

South Carolina marriages and deaths

Ancestry.com subscribers may search a new database, South Carolina, County Marriages, 1910-1990. “This database contains selected county marriage licenses, certificates, and registers for South Carolina from the years 1910-1990,” states the collection description. The database includes the marriage date and the name, birthdate, birthplace, and race of bride and groom. “Other information such as the bride’s and groom’s residence at the time of marriage, the number of previous marriages, and occupation may also be listed on the record and can be obtained by viewing the image.” A related Ancestry.com collection, South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1965, has been updated.

St. Croix: The Enslaved and the Free

A new Ancestry.com database reveals more about life in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands: Slave and Free People Records, 1779-1921. “The diversity of records in this database reflects some of St. Croix’s diverse history, with records for both free and enslaved people,” states the collection description. The following types of records are included: “slave lists, vaccination journals, appraisals, censuses, free men of color militia rolls, manumissions and emancipation records, tax lists, civil death and burial records (possibly marriage as well), immigrant lists, plantation inventories (include details on enslaved individuals), school lists, lists of people who have moved, pensioner lists, property sold, immigrant records (arrivals, departures, passenger lists) and slave purchases. Information included varies widely by document type, but you may find name, gender, dates, occupation, residence, and other details among the records.”

Washington death records

FamilySearch.org has added over 1.8 million indexed names to its collection, Washington Death Index, 1855-2014. “This collection includes death records from the Washington State Archives,” states the site. “There is an index and images of deaths recorded with the state. The following counties have free access: Benton, Cashmere, Douglas, Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin, Chelan, Grant, Klickitat and Okanogan.”

Learn all about how to start cemetery research with the brand new book, The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide. Discover tools for locating tombstones, tips for traipsing through cemeteries, an at-a-glance guide to frequently used gravestone icons, and practical strategies for on-the-ground research.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Find Your U.S. Ancestors in These New Genealogy Records Online

Learn more about U.S. ancestors in new genealogy records for Navy and Marine officers, WWI veterans, historical and genealogical journals, and new genealogy records for 12 U.S. states: Ala., Ark., Hawaii, Kan., La., Mass., Miss., Mont., N.Y., Texas, Utah, and Va. 

new genealogy records

Following are new genealogy records (and updated collections) for the U.S. and several U.S. states. In which may your ancestors appear?

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Officer Registries. Ancestry.com subscribers may search a new database, “U.S., Navy and Marine Corps Registries, 1814-1992.” From the collection description: “This collection includes registers of officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps from between the years of 1814 and 1992. Within these records you can expect to find: name, rank, ship or station.” (Note: the above image shows the first group of female Marine officer candidates in 1943; click here to learn more and see this image’s citation.)

World War I Veteran’s History Project: Part II Launches. The Veterans History Project has launched “Over There,” the second in a three-part, online web series dedicated to United States veterans of the First World War. “Over There” highlights 10 digitized World War I collections found in the Veterans History Project archive. Click here to access Part II and other veterans’ collections featured in “Over There.” Part III will be available in fall of 2017. (Click here to read the full announcement from the Library of Congress.)

U.S. and Canada journals. PERSIPERSI, the Periodical Source Index, has been updated with historical and genealogical journal content covering Ontario, Canada as well as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, & Rhode Island. Search PERSI at Findmypast.com to discover articles, transcribed records, and images of your ancestors and their communities, churches, schools and more in thousands of journals. Some journals are index-only and others have digitized articles: click here to learn more about PERSI.

Statewide: New genealogy records

  • Alaska: Ancestry.com has a new database of Alaska, Vital Records, 1818 -1963. It contains birth, marriage, and death records.
  • Arkansas: A new digital exhibit tells the story of the first African-American college west of the Mississippi River, located in Phillips County. Lives Transformed: The People of Southland College “includes photos and scanned images of letters, circulars, forms, the Southland newspaper and other ephemera, including invitations, the catalog of studies, a diploma, and a commencement program,” states a news report.
  • Hawaii: Over 300,000 indexed names have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of Hawaiian obituaries since 1980.
  • Kansas: New browsable image collections of Kansas state census records for 1865, 1875, 1885 and 1895 are now free to search at FamilySearch.org. The growing size of each collection by year–from 4,701 pages in 1865 to 116,842 pages in 1895–witnesses the tremendous growth of this prairie state after the Homestead Act of 1862 opened its land for cheap purchase and settlement. (Did you know? Kansas census records 1855-1940 at Ancestry.com are also available for free to Kansas residents.) Click here to learn more about state census records in the U.S.
  • Louisiana: Over 100,000 new images and thousands of indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection of Louisiana death records (1850-75, 1894-1960).
  • Massachusetts: More than half a million names are in 22 volumes of sacramental records (baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths) for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Archdiocese of Boston, now online at AmericanAncestors.com.
  • Mississippi: Ancestry.com has updated its collection of Mississippi Naturalization Records, 1907-2008. This collection pertains to naturalizations finalized after 1906, when most were taken care of in federal courts.
  • Montana: Find a new collection of Montana County Marriages, 1865-1993 at Ancestry.com. Details for both the bride and groom may include name, age at marriage, and marriage date/place. (You may also access this collection for free at FamilySearch.org.)
  • New York: The Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive has added more than 70,000 playbills, posters, and ephemera from the history of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, dating to the Civil War era. (We found this in a New York Times report.)
  • Texas. Ancestry.com has updated its database, “Texas, Select County Marriage Records, 1837-2015.” The collection description states, “This collection consists of a mix of marriage licenses, returns, certificates, affidavits, and indexes. The documents that are available in this database vary depending on the county. All marriage records include the names of the bride and groom, as well as the date of the license and/or marriage. In many instances, additional details are available as well.” This collection continues to be updated: keep checking back!
  • Utah: There’s a new digital archive of photos, yearbooks, and other documents relating to the history of Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. The school taught high school and college courses and was open 1877-1926. Learn more about it in a news report at HJnews.com.
  • Virginia: A decade’s worth of obituaries from the Evening Star (Winchester, 1899-1909) are now available at subscription site Findmypast.com.

Did you see the new Genealogy Gems Book Club announcement for this week? It’s a new memoir by a U.S. journalist who tracks down an old family story about her immigrant roots. You won’t want to miss this family history murder mystery! Click here to learn more about the book and watch a trailer for its PBS documentary.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

German Marriages and More in New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

German marriages, Indexed obituaries for the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, The ultimate photo map of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and UN War Crimes Commission reports from World War II are all in our new and updated genealogy records today!

Germany Marriages: Magdeburg

Ancestry.com has published a new collection of over 600,000 marriages recorded in Magdeburg, a city about 80 miles west of Berlin. According to the collection description, “Beginning on October 1, 1874, local registry offices were made responsible for creating birth, marriage, and death records in the former Prussian provinces. The collected records are arranged chronologically and usually in bound yearbook form which are collectively referred to as ‘civil registers.’ For most of the communities included in the collection, corresponding alphabetical directories of names were also created.” The records date from 1874-1923.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake: The Ultimate Map

A new interactive map plots the likely locations of thousands of photos taken of the “smoke, fire, ruins and refugees” after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map at OpenSFHistory references stunning images of bewildered survivors amidst their devastated neighborhood, reminders of the brutal and total losses many incurred in a few seconds.

  • Got a disaster story in your family history? Read these tips on researching it.
  • Was London the scene of your family’s disaster–specifically, the London Blitz? Click here to learn about an interactive map of the bombing of London during World War II.

Indexed Obituaries at Ancestry.com

Obituaries such as this one from the Western Christian Advocate (Cincinnati, June 28, 1844) often reveal unique personal and family information.

Ancestry.com recently updated several enormous national obituary indexes:

Thousands of obituaries or death notices are searchable in digitized newspaper collections, but indexes dramatically improve the odds of discovering them. Then the trick becomes tracking down the original paper to see it for yourself. Learn more about finding obituaries (and everything else in newspapers) in How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke.

South Africa Court Records

Over 200,00 records appear in Ancestry.com’s new database, South Africa, Miscellaneous Court Records Index, 1652-2004, 2008-2011. Spanning more than 350 years, the collection indexes records from the Courts of Justice (1652-1956), Cape Town Criminal Records (1854-1855), Official Name Changes (2008-2011), South African Law Reports (1828-2004), and the 1859 Weenan, Natal Jury List.

“The details provided for each person typically include name, record date, record place, collection, and source,” states the collection description. “Depending on the collection, additional details such as occupation, place of residence, names of relatives, or information on a court case or crime may be available as well.”

UN War Crimes Commissions Archive Opened

The Guardian recently reported that the UN War Crimes Commission archives is being opened in London and its catalog is now searchable online. “War crimes files revealing early evidence of Holocaust death camps…are among tens of thousands of files to be made public for the first time this week,” says the story. “The archive, along with the UNWCC, was closed in the late 1940s as West Germany was transformed into a pivotal ally at the start of the cold war and use of the records was effectively suppressed.” The archive contains thousands of pages of evidence collected (much of it in secret) even as the war raged, and includes detailed descriptions of Nazi extermination camps, massacres in Czechoslovakia, and early war crimes tribunals.

Newspapers in the News

North Carolina

Digitized issues of The Franklin Times (weekly, searchable 1909-1924) are now searchable at Digital NC. The paper served Lewisburg, the seat of Franklin County, North Carolina. The paper has a fairly local focus, according to a blog post announcing the collection. “For example, one weekly column, ‘The Moving People,’ tracks ‘those who have visited Louisburg the past week’ and ‘those who have gone elsewhere for business or pleasure.’ The column lists individuals who returned from trips and those who visited from afar….Local meetings, contests, municipal issues, social events, and more are recounted each week.”

Washington

Lisa Louise Cooke just found a little piece of her own history in Washington State University’s student newspaper, now fully searchable online for free. It’s a short snippet that refers to a two-woman play Lisa was in!

According to a Facebook announcement, a new digital archive includes 13,200+ issues of the The Daily Evergreen (1895-2016) and 660 pages of other newspapers, including an early official student paper, the College Record (1892-1893).

Find your own family history in newspapers of all kinds, from local dailies to labor presses or church regionals, or even student papers such as the one Lisa used above. “Read all about it!” in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.

Available at http://genealogygems.com

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsOur weekly roundup of new genealogy records online includes: the 1891 NSW Australia census;Portsmouth, England electoral registers; Frankfurt, Germany deaths; Massachusetts Revolutionary War soldiers; North Carolina probate and recent U.S. obituaries.

AUSTRALIA CENSUS. FamilySearch has added over 300k entries to its indexed records of the 1891 Australia Census for New South Wales.

ENGLAND ELECTORAL REGISTERS. Findmypast continues to expand its collection of electoral registers with nearly 200k transcripts from Portsmouth, England (1835-1873).

GERMANY DEATHS. Over half a million indexed records and accompanying images are at a new, free FamilySearch collection of death records for Frankfurt, Germany (1928-1978).

MASSACHUSETTS REVOLUTIONARY WAR. A new browsable collection of “index cards to muster rolls of soldiers who served in Massachusetts regiments during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783″ is now searchable at FamilySearch. The card file comes from the Massachusetts State Archives in Boston.

NORTH CAROLINA PROBATE. More than a half million images and 25,000 indexed records have been added to a free collection of North Carolina estate records (1663-1979) at FamilySearch.

US OBITUARIES. FamilySearch has updated its collection of recent U.S. obituaries indexed from GenealogyBank newspaper images. Nearly 15 million records have been added. The  index is free to search.

thank you for sharingThank you for sharing these new genealogy records online with your fellow genealogy buddies and society members! You’re a gem!

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